Coded messages at ZLD

by Ian Walker ZL1BFB

Whilst training at Musick Point I performed most of the normal duties undertaken by radio operators at the time.

These included taking telegrams from pleasure vessels cruising the Hauraki Gulf and from commercial shipping.

We also had the standard duty of receiving messages from the operational lighthouse keepers giving weather reports for forwarding to the weather office.

These messages were sent and received in the standard telegram format: Date, Time, Number of Words, address and the text in plain language or code format.

Most telegrams were of a general nature for the pleasure boats. Commercial shipping consisted mainly of arrivals, departures and manning or passenger information for the shipping company, arrival times for meeting the pilot etc., and wharf or berthing times.

The lighthouses were different. While they sent grocery orders and family messages in text, the text for the weather was in a five figure code, normally up to twenty groups. Amongst these were the special ones that had a strange addressee and the coded text was rather odd – not always in groups of five and with a shorter text.

I was informed that it was not to be received as a telegram but was to be passed to specific staff members. I later discovered that it was information from certain lighthouse keepers regarding horse racing – betting forms and dividend information.

The ZLD staff member then trotted off and placed the bets for the keepers.

Not being a follower of this hobby I just received it as normal and logged it off.

Although these messages were generally as short as a TR at times they could be up to thirty words for a big race. New at this game I was to discover that this was not an uncommon utilization of the telegraph lines.

Just another day at the office for Auckland Radio and I believe the same thing took place from the shipping and Pacific Islands.

I wonder if it still goes on today with our modern communications system.